(From left): Troon Vineyard 2019 Piquette!; Johan Vineyards 2019 Piquette; Roots Wine Co. 2019 “Lora” Piquette; The Marginy 2019 Piquette. ##Photo by Hilary Berg

A Bet on Piquette

Taking a chance on inexpensive, fizzy fare

By Karl Klooster

One of wine’s newest trends is, in fact, not modern at all. Until a couple years ago, almost no one in the U.S. had even heard of this inexpensive drink. Yet, it was once a workingman’s favorite in France.

Piquette (pih-ket) is made by re-hydrating wine pomace — skins, pulp, seeds and occasionally stems — after the juice is pressed, then re-pressing and pouring the reconstituted liquid in a crown-capped bottle for fermentation. The resulting product can be made cheaply, quickly and with delightfully tangy, effervescently refreshing results.

Piquette has been gaining traction here in America, right on the heels of pét-nat (pétillant naturel), a semi-sparkling wine that’s become popular in recent years. Similarities between pét-nat and piquette can cause some confusion. Although the term “méthode ancestrale” is applied to both because of their ancient roots, the methods of production differ.

Pét-nat is made from freshly pressed juice drawn off — usually cloudy and unfiltered — during primary fermentation, bottled with a crown cap and allowed to complete fermentation in that bottle. This is different from piquette in that residual material (re-hydrated pomace) is the source of the liquid to be fermented. Unlike pét-nat, piquette is not a wine, but a wine-like product because it is not made from fresh fruit.

With pét-nat, a certain amount of fizziness created by CO2 released during fermentation is captured inside the bottle. Piquette is most often made to achieve a similar spritzy outcome. This technique should not be confused with méthode traditionnelle sparkling wines, in which the entrapped effervescence is achieved by introducing a dosage (doe-sahjh) of yeast and grape syrup to bottle-aged still wine, activating a secondary fermentation in the bottle.

Alcohol can range from 3% to as much as 11%, depending on whether fermentation is aided. The flavors of the variety or blend come across bright and breezy, clean and crisp. Augmented by those itsy bitsy bubbles, it practically dances on the tongue.

There’s a caveat when it comes to making piquette: Without alcohol or preservatives present at the outset, strict hygienic protocols must be followed to minimize the risk of bacterial contamination. One can only imagine what a challenge it would have been, given the primitive conditions in Roman times, to achieve the right balance and maintain cleanliness in the process.

Furthermore, the ancient version of piquette, then referred to as Iora (eye-ora), or Lora, was not sparkling. It was simply a still, low-alcohol beverage made to quench the thirst of and give a little lift to soldiers, slaves and lower-class laborers. Given the wine-like liquid was exposed to oxygen immediately after fermentation, it had to be consumed quickly before turning to vinegar.

During the late 19th century, it reigned as the preferred drink of French commoners, with yearly consumption amounting to millions of gallons. Records indicate it had a light, lively spritz; although a still version may also have been made. So, what happened to the popular quaff? Piquette ultimately fell out of favor. Not because it was bad. But because it was cheap.

When the “developed” European culture became prominent in the western world, its self-indulgent, upper-crust inhabitants bought into their own up-market image. The French took this panache quite seriously, and something so plebeian as piquette offended their sensibilities. Its reputation plummeted to the point where the word itself, which literally means “prickly” or “stinging,” came to describe wine of the lowliest, most inferior kind.

Conversely, the word can also mean “piquant,” eliciting such sassy synonyms as spicy, tangy, tasty, peppery and flavorsome. If made from pomace remaining after high-quality wine grapes are crushed, piquette transforms into something quite tantalizing. Proponents claim it imparts flavors with fun and flair, not to mention affordability.

Piquette was introduced into the U.S. in 2016 by winemaker Todd Cavalo of Wild Arc Farm, a small Biodynamic farm and winery in New York’s Hudson Valley. He got the idea from a good friend, Tristen Gild of the Kingston Wine Company, a New York retailer who ran across a story about the ancient beverage in an old book on European wine history. Other winemakers eventually discovered the concept and decided to try it themselves.

First to join the movement were several small East Coast wineries. Currently, there are several dozen around the country, at least five in Oregon. Johan Vineyards in Rickreall, Kramer Vineyards in Gaston, Troon Vineyard in Grants Pass, Roots Wine Co. in Yamhill and The Marigny in McMinnville have all pursued the production of piquette.

Made by winemaker Morgan Beck, Johan’s piquette combines re-hydrated pomace of Melon de Bourgogne, Grüner Veltliner, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. At Kramer Vineyards, Kimberley Kramer uses Müller-Thurgau pomace plus Pinot Gris hard pressings and a touch of red wine for color. In 2018 and 2019, she put most of it into 375ml bottles at $5.95 each. Both immediately sold out.

Craig Camp at Troon Vineyard says they combined Tannat, Marsanne and Primitivo pomace, which intentionally retained a fair amount of juice after pressing for the still wines. They pressed it dry, bottled and capped it, and allowed the fermentation to commence naturally. The result was classically cloudy, pink wine with a substantial sparkle at 10.5% alcohol.

Troon’s winemaker Nate Wall makes both pét-nat and piquette from Tannat. Even though Tannat is a very pigmented red, the Troon Pét-tanNat (as the winery calls it) looks clear because it is made from free-run juice immediately drawn off for fermentation. The remainder goes to make piquette. Recycling the pomace complements their commitment to Biodynamics, which just this year has culminated in both the Troon vineyard and winery earning Demeter Certification.

Chris Berg of Roots Wine Co. adheres to the classic méthode ancestrale manner of making piquette, minus the spritz. “If it’s sparkling, it isn’t piquette as originally produced,” he stated emphatically, with the logic of history on his side. The Romans had no way to seal a vessel to capture the CO2. Using re-hydrated Sauvignon Blanc pomace, Berg calls his non-sparkling, 5%-alcohol piquette “LORA” and packages it in creatively decorated 250ml cans that sell for $4 retail.

The Marigny’s founder, Andy Young, has such a penchant for piquette he launched a website ( exclusively devoted to promoting the product. As a fan of all things Big Easy, he named his brand after a famed New Orleans neighborhood, Faubourg Marigny.

Young made his first piquette in 2019. He used Pinot Noir pomace adjusted with a little Pinot Gris juice, filtered, bottled and charged with CO2. This method to ensure effervescence departs from the approach employed by most producers. Traditionally, gas formed in the bottle during fermentation of the reconstituted juice supplies the spritz. But carbonation from an outside source is more expedient and consistent without affecting the flavor.

That’s one of the reasons Young says he loves piquette: “Because it’s irreverent. An outlier. Variations on the theme are the rule rather than the exception.” Selling piquette in cans is a practical way to ensnare the spritz while also making it convenient and inexpensive. Following Chris Berg’s lead, for 2020, Young plans to do just that.

As it stands, no regulations are in place for the production of piquette. This leaves substantial room for personal expression in pressing the pomace, and the range of styles currently carrying the name proves it.

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